As M&S and Experian look to foreign climes, the experts are all at sea (again)

On the agenda this week: retailer and credit agency ponder international expansion, while growth in the economy wrongfoots the policy analysts

There's an old joke, currently being aimed at Marks & Spencer's platitude-loving boss Marc Bolland, that he could talk in clichés until the cows come home.

To be fair to the Dutchman, he is hardly the only culprit in a sector riddled with soundbites that get more outings than Twiggy in an M&S commercial, and one particular favourite goes: "Top line is vanity, bottom line is sanity."

If that piece of advice were ever true, then it would be fair to say that the chasing of revenues from overseas is viewed as very vainglorious – which might be the only explanation for why the retailer's alighted on it.

Bolland – who has acquired the nickname of "five minutes late", on account of his schedule frequently being thrown by pauses to perfect his coiffure – plans to more than double the pace of M&S's overseas openings. This eyecatching strategy comes despite his struggles to reverse woes at home – and this week the group is expected to report a drop in first-half profits following the biggest decline in non-food revenue since 2008.

So with that backdrop, can a plan to sell lingerie to Parisians – the equivalent of a French merchant peddling towelling pyjamas here – be the clever answer? Sanity it may not prove to be.

Economists – right on the money again

Our nation's clairvoyant economists have been telling us for months how November's gathering of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee would be the moment when the printing presses belched magic money once more. "There is a growing expectation the Bank will sanction more quantitative easing in November," Chris Williamson of Markit said only last month, just as Martin Beck of Capital Economics mused: "We still expect more asset purchases … in November."

That no longer represents the consensus, however, which has shifted to Threadneedle Street giving the whole QE thing a miss at this week's meet. The dismal scientists have settled on this latest take having been permitted a look at the less dovish tone of the October minutes, while also being taken by surprise by UK GDP leaping by 1% in the third quarter.

Added to all that, there already appears to be a lot of free money stimulating the economy, courtesy of those high-street banks caught fleecing customers via payment protection insurance. Provisions stand at more than £12bn and are likely to rise – which might prove socially useful. Or, as an economist might hedge, it might not.

Experian reveals its own credit check

Credit where credit is due: Experian is one of the few companies that can convincingly claim to be having a good financial crisis. While its former sister company Home Retail Group continues to flounder, the other business spun out of the old retailing conglomerate Great Universal Stores just seems to boom and boom.

Experian shares have risen almost fourfold since the autumn of 2008 as the company, best known for helping banks check consumer credit histories, has grown in North and Latin America. It also turns out it's been making a tidy return from the public sector too, after being hired by the British government to cut benefit fraud: Experian gets a bounty for every suspected cheat grassed up.

Still, the scenario gets flipped this week when the company has to divulge details of its own finances, as it reports interim results. Much of the focus will be on its decision to acquire another 29.6% of a Brazilian credit agency for $1.5bn (£935m) and take its holding to 99.6% – a purchase that will be funded from existing banking facilities.

While that looks like a debt that can be quickly repaid, analysts at Seymour Pierce caution it will take leverage towards "the top end of the target range". That must irk: it sounds suspiciously like a credit check.

Ryanair: where the customer is always wrong

Another week, another public spat between Ryanair and one of its customers. Footage of a passenger being ejected by the Spanish rozzers from a flight last week is doing the rounds online - after the airline apparently insisted she be removed from the plane for boarding with, er, a poster poking out of the top of her carrier bag.

These things always appear embarrassing, but chief exec Michael O'Leary has form in profiting from such rows. In 2002, he memorably refused to settle with Ryanair's millionth passenger, Jane O'Keeffe, who trousered €67,500 after taking the airline to court for reneging on its offer to give her free flights for life.

Bad news for O'Leary? Don't be silly. "For three days we got the worst publicity any company has ever had in its life," he recalled. "Our bookings soared by 30% day by day by day."

This week Ryanair reports interim results. You've guessed it: net profits are expected to rise by around 10%.


Simon Goodley

The GuardianTramp

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